Renee Zellweger places herself firmly at the front of the upcoming Oscar race with a must-see turn as Judy Garland in a film about the showbiz legend's latter years.

Judy takes place in the late 60s, when the 40-something cash-strapped actress and singer, facing the prospect of losing custody of her younger children, is forced to accept an offer to perform a series of concerts in London.

There she is welcomed by adoring fans but her considerable demons, many a direct result of a hugely exploitative childhood, begin to pile up and threaten her ability to perform.

The challenge with any showbiz biopic, especially one about an icon, is to supersede the melodramatic, TV movie-esque conventions that plague the genre. In terms of Zellweger's performance, Judy absolutely achieves this.

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The actor offers up an artful mixture of impression and interpretation that must be seen to be appreciated. Aided by some subtle makeup effects (the nose and eyebrows really sell it), Zellweger does an amazing job of evoking Garland's kooky spirit and propulsive vocal abilities. She even manages to walk like Garland.

The film around Zellweger is by no means an embarrassment, but it doesn't truly honour the heights of her acting. On more than one occasion, just as something approaching transcendence is being achieved thanks to Zellweger, the film decides to undercut it with a cliched development.

Nevertheless, the tragedy that plagued Garland's cruelly short life, the enormity of her talent and the devotion of her fans all leave a lasting impression in a film that clearly seeks to honour its subject. It is ultimately successful in goal and the final performance won't leave a dry eye in the house.

Cast:

Renee Zellwegger, Rufus Sewell, Finn Wittrock

Director:

Rupert Goold

Running time:

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118 minutes

Rating:

M (Drug use and offensive language)

Verdict:

A three-star biopic that gains an extra one thanks to the power of its remarkable lead performance.